HRW pushes Malawi for new marriage law

The Human Right Watch (HRW) has accused Malawi government of lacking seriousness in ending   widespread child and forced marriage in the country.

In its 69-page report, “I’ve Never Experienced Happiness’: Child Marriage in Malawi,”  launched on Friday ahead of International Women’s Day to day Saturday March 8, the HRW documents how child marriage prevents girls and women from participating in all spheres of life.

The Human Rights Watch report is based on in-depth interviews with 80 girls and women in six districts in southern and central Malawi.

Malawi's child brides: This photo shows a 16-year-old girl at her wedding.- Getty Imgaes
Malawi’s child brides: This photo shows a 16-year-old girl at her wedding.- Getty Imgaes

It says the practice violates the rights to health, to education, to be free from physical, mental, and sexual violence, and to marry only when able and willing to give free and full consent.

The report document stories from girls who told HRW of their experiences.

“Many said that they could not return to school after marriage because of lack of money to pay school fees, lack of child care, unavailability of flexible school programs or adult classes, and the need to do household chores. Others said that their husbands or in-laws would not allow them to continue school after marriage”.

Changamile F. from Chikwawa district, who dropped out of school at age 16 in her second year of secondary school, told Human Rights Watch, “I really want to go back to school so that I can get a job and live a better life. But I’m very busy with housework and my mother-in-law doesn’t support my going back to school”

Human Rights Watch found that child marriage exposes girls to gender-based violence, including domestic and sexual violence.

“Malawi’s first woman president, Joyce Banda, who took office in April 2012, should publicly support prompt enactment of the Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Bill (Marriage Bill), which includes vital protections against child marriage”, Human Rights Watch says.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Child welfare and Community Development Mary Shawa said government has already made effort in ending child marriages citing the Marriage Bill developed in 2006.

But the Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch Agnes Odhiambo told Voice of America: “The [Malawi] government need to set clear minimum marriage age and it has that opportunity because in 2006 it developed the Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Bill (Marriage Bill).

“But eight years down the line it remains a bill and this is not a good sign that the government is committed to ending child marriage and protecting girls from abuses they face as a result of child marriage.”

According to government statistics, half of the girls in Malawi will be married by their 18th birthday, with some as young as age 9 or 10 being forced to marry.

The statistics also show that between 2010 and 2013, 27,612 girls in primary and 4,053 girls in secondary schools dropped out due to marriage.

During the same period, another 14,051 primary school girls and 5,597 secondary school girls dropped out because they were pregnant.

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